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Should dance be a varsity sport? These university students in London, Ont. think so | CBC News

Members of one of Western University’s three unaffiliated dance teams say they’d like competitive dance to have varsity status alongside sports like basketball and volleyball. 

This is London (TIL) is a dance team composed of 50 full-time students who dance all styles including hip-hop, jazz and contemporary. Most of them are enrolled in Western’s minor in dance academic program, where rehearsal space is provided during class time. Without official status with the university, they are not allowed to use the space outside of those hours.

“Sometimes we just dance in the basement of our community centre in front of [student cafe] The Spoke, sometimes wherever we can find the space,” said Marlowe Zimmerman, 20, one of TIL’s four co-captains who has danced with the team for three years. 

The self-funded group can afford to rent an off-campus studio every Sunday for five hours, but it takes 20 hours of weekly practice to measure up in competition. Every week the captains look for for a free space on campus where they can make up the remaining 15. 

Efforts to be recognized not taken seriously: co-captain

Western currently supports 46 sport teams and clubs and 18 recreational sport clubs, sports & recreation director Christine Stapleton told CBC News in an email. 

Varsity teams include squash, figure skating, water polo and ultimate frisbee, according to Western’s website. 

Mustangs sports teams, sports clubs or recreational sports clubs can use and wear the Mustangs logo and brand while competing for Western in provincial and national championships. They have resources allocated to them that include a facility, human resources, support with travel booking, eligibility requirement checking, strength training and more.

The all-women team learns a new part of choreography ahead of three competitions against other Ontario university teams scheduled for the spring. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Student groups are able to apply for recreational sport club status. The university considers their proposed activities along with its available space and funding. 

There is no record of any of Western’s unofficial dance teams – TIL, HEAT and InMotion – having applied to be a team or a club with Western sports & recreation, Stapleton said. 

Zimmerman said that previous attempts to do so have gone unanswered. 

“I know that messages have been sent by people on our team currently, and I know that they’ve either been ignored or not taken seriously, and nothing has come into fruition,” she said. “Nothing has changed.” 

A sport or an art? It’s both, dancers say

TIL hosts numerous fundraisers to cover the costs of studio time, competition fees, costumes and transportation. The rest of the funding comes out of the students’ own pockets. 

Zimmerman estimated the cost per person, per competition, to be at around $1,000 on top of the price of accommodation. 

The financial advantages of varsity status would enable the team to afford a regular practice space, and a coach that would help them to further hone their skills. 

There’s an ongoing debate as to what category competitive dance falls under, said  20-year-old Isabella Barile, another co-captain of TIL. 

“It’s an art and a sport combined together,” Barile said. 

There may be a performative element, but the dancers train just as hard for their art as their peers in traditional sports, Zimmerman added. 

“I train 20 hours a week in this sport, the same as a varsity basketball player does,” Zimmerman said. “I have to go to the gym, I have to do my regimen, I have to have a proper diet. I am an athlete and this is what I do, and I train for greatness every single year.” 

Left to right: Isabella Barile, Marlowe Zimmerman and Rosalie Deschenes-Lebel have been committed to TIL throughout their time at Western, and say they would like to formally represent their school in competitions.
Left to right: Isabella Barile, Marlowe Zimmerman and Rosalie Deschenes-Lebel have been committed to TIL throughout their time at Western, and say they would like to formally represent their school in competitions. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Other major universities in Ontario, such as the University of Toronto, Carleton University and McMaster University, are represented by at least one official dance team or club. 

TIL is training to compete against some of those teams in three upcoming competitions in March. They will take place in Guelph, Mississauga and Niagara Falls. 

Team members plan on inviting friends and family to a showcase after they return. Proceeds from the tickets will go toward their costs in the spring. 


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